Keeping young people safe on social media is more important than ever. Social media is a fairly new method of interaction. Teachers now spend more time interacting with students virtually than in person. The same applies to families, friends, and even healthcare professionals. It’s for this reason that we must be aware of the more hidden negative effects of social media, and how we can keep young people safe while using it.
Our youth-engagement platform, Lyfeproof, is a prime example of young people using social media for good. The young people produce and curate content discussing a wide pool of issues relevant to young people today. We have been working with young people and social media for years, so we understand the potential ways social media use can become unhealthy and unsafe.
Platforms like Instagram and Twitter are very effective at spreading awareness of social issues. The power of these social networks has been highlighted recently through the Black Lives Matter movement, men’s mental health campaigns, and the Yemen conflict. However, this also means that certain organisations can spread their own harmful messages. Extreme political commentators use these platforms to spread misinformation. Additionally, 29% of social media users felt so overloaded that they deleted it altogether. Therefore, we should encourage all young people to follow a diverse range of people and opinions. This will mean that they can make informed opinions for themselves.
The Like Button
The 9th of February 2021 marked the twelfth anniversary of the like button. Facebook introduced the like button so that users could show their appreciation for their friends’ online posts. However, this has unintended consequences. Young people often compare their own posts to other people’s, and they see the likes number as the post’s worth. This popularity contest has caused the average time users are spending on social media to increase to 2 hours and 33 minutes per day. This can lead to productivity loss, sleep deprivation, and feelings of inadequacy. However, the growing concern surrounding this problem was reduced when Instagram started testing a new ‘likeless’ version of the platform.
Notifications have been developed to abuse your biological programming for profit. Companies chose the colour red because it arouses a greater emotional response than other colours. What’s more, interaction on our posts gives us serotonin. Dar Meshi, the cognitive neuroscientist at Michigan State University explains, ‘We’re hardwired to find social interactions rewarding,’. Social media takes advantage of these instincts by causing addiction which negatively affects some users. This causes poor decision-making and an imbalance of priorities.’
Young people spending more than 3 hours are at a higher risk of mental health problems. A way to combat these problems is to educate young people about the importance of taking breaks from social media after viewing. Replacing scrolling with an activity that calms the mind. Also, they need to reassess how importantly they view certain aspects of it. Perhaps show them that it’s a tool for keeping up with friends and brands, not something to attach or assess your own worth.
There is an ongoing debate over whether social media sites are publishers or platforms. If they are publishers, they are responsible for the criminal footage that is uploaded on the sites by users. Therefore, until this question is answered, we must be cautious when navigating sites like Twitter and Facebook, which are rife with harmful content – especially in relation to youth violence/knife crime. Exposure to these kinds of videos can cause harm to a young mind. It can cause emotional desensitivity, which can lead to antisocial traits in young people.
According to Baldacci et al, people can become emotionally desensitised to violence online. It may benefit young people to report and block any accounts which post harmful content. Also, we would encourage you to talk with your young people if a violent death has occurred in their neighbourhood. Recognising the trauma witnessing these acts can inflict is important. We need to start talking about this, so it can help them to deal with it in healthy ways.
Have a conversation
We hope you have found this blog valuable in your pursuit to keep young people safe in online spaces. To start a conversation about healthy social media habits is such a small task, but can have a big impact on a young person. Would you like to learn more about young people’s attitudes towards social media, crime, and mental health? Aspire4u is facilitating training through our Youth Influenced Education Leadership Development (YIELD) programme. This can help you and your organisation in listening to and working with young people.
Check out the links below for further reading!
- How much time do people spend on social media?
- Dar Meshi: the neuroscience behind social media use
- Violent behaviour in young people
Written by Ceri Winfield
For Aspire4u CIC,
The Mindset-Led Organisation
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